This year, prior to the start of the 2010 deer season, the full moon and the autumn equinox are almost on the same day. This in itself is a bit of an unusual celestial event. But what does it mean for whitetail deer hunters in the Northeast and Midwest?
This year, prior to the start of the 2010 deer season, the full moon and the autumn equinox are almost on the same day.
This in itself is a bit of an unusual celestial event.
But what does it mean for whitetail deer hunters in the Northeast and Midwest?
The fall equinox, that moment in time each year when daylight and dark are exactly the same length, can be marked on the calendar as either on Sept. 21 or Sept. 22. At that moment, night begins being longer than on each prior day.
And at that moment, the photoperiodic switch is tripped in many plants and animals, especially those which are termed by biologists as "short-day breeders," of which the whitetail is one.
Each year the closest moon to the equinox may be as far away as two weeks.
The last time the harvest moon, the common name of the full moon, rose close to the equinox in September was in 2002. Back in 1991, the full moon came up over the eastern horizon on Sept. 23, and in 1983 the full moon rose on Sept. 22.
In each of those years, the whitetail rut reached its peak 10 days after the following full moon in October, called appropriately the hunter's moon.
The hunter's moon is one of the main signals for the whitetail deer of the Northeast and the Midwest that it is time to breed.
How is the moon linked to an animal's biological rhythms? The theories seem far-fetched.
But these moon theories are based on nuts and bolts science, though certainly not without controversy in much the same way that we see the current debate on global warming, the doubt that emerged when Raymond Dart presented his findings from the South African caves to his contemporary anthropologists, and the controversy that emerged when an Italian scientist had the audacity to put forth radical scientific notion that the earth was round.
Science has penetrated the whitetails' breeding pattern and its relation to daylight and moonlight by studying blind deer and by being able to skew whitetail estrus patterns by keeping deer in the dark and artificially (with lights) create a "false rut."
As in the fall of 2002, the 2010 season is actually a "normal" fall because of the timing of the moon phases. On some hunting seasons, the full moon in September (normally the harvest moon) has occurred exceedingly early, so early in fact that actually the first full moon in October was closer to the equinox, making it, by definition, the harvest moon. (Like last year, in 2009, when the harvest moon was Oct. 3.) Of course, that made the hunter's moon land in November and consequently a later rut.
That only happens "once in a blue moon." And that is what happened this past December (2009) and also in November of 2001, two full moons in the same month. It's very rare, usually occurring only once every three and and a half years or so. By the way, the second moon of December was the "blue moon." But what did it do to the whitetail's breeding pattern?
Well, those of us who were out there saw that the rut was quite repressed during October and really didn't get rolling until the second week of November. Usually things start popping in the first week of November, or late October.
Of course, there are other factors besides the moon that affect the whitetails' breeding cycle. Bucks have their own metabolic and hormonal patterns, part of which are set off and set up by the does' chemical messages. And, in turn, the females are triggered by the bucks' scent, as we say, but really it is his chemical messages.
So last year, in 2009, the rut was unusual and a bit late. This year, the rut should begin to rock 'n' roll around 10 days earlier, or during the first week of November -- a classic, "normal" year.
Therefore, hunters should be in the trees at the start of November, expecting to fill the tag with a nice buck.
The tail end of the 2010 archery season, around the final week, could see a drop-off of significant daytime (diurnal) buck movement. My advice for the 2010 season, as it was for the 2002 season, the 1991 season and the 1983 season: "Get 'er done early."
Oak Duke writes for the Daily Reporter in Wellsville, N.Y. E-mail him at email@example.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.